There a couple of cars I remember from my childhood. There was a problematic Mercury Zephyr wagon, a funky 1982 Toyota Tercel coupe and a two-tone 1991 Chevrolet Astro van. But nothing burrowed its was deeper into my psyche, or took a bigger piece of my heart, than our 1985 Pontiac 6000 LE Wagon.
Bought brand new, I was a wee lad all of five years-old when we got it. Still, I remember so many details about that car. It was the first car my parents owned with backlit controls everywhere. It seemed the entire dashboard lit up at night – like a jetliner. The underfloor storage in the rear hatch (where a rear facing third row seat would go if optioned) was a fun place to hide and surprise my parents.
Our car was burgundy on burgundy. It was from an era where interiors could be had in actual colours. I remember thinking how much cooler and sportier our wagon looked compared to the usual rolling bricks on the road. It even had a rear hatch-mounted spoiler.
60° of Distinction
In 1985, the Pontiac 6000 could be had in multiple configurations; base, LE, and STE (the S/E wouldn’t come until 1986). A four-cylinder engine was standard, with no fewer than three V6 options; one of which was even a diesel.
We had a mid-trim LE wagon with the 112 hp, carbureted 2.8-liter V6 engine. There was a fuel injected version of the 2.8-liter available as well making a healthier 130 hp, but that was too fancy for our blood. Regardless, both were a member of the General Motor’s 60° V6 family and made a very distinct sound. Those that were alive in North America during the ‘80s and ‘90s know this specific rumble, even if they are not aware of it.
As an adolescent lying in bed at night, I would always know when my dad came home from night school or some work engagement due to the sound of that small V6 engine. It became part of my subconscious, waking me up from a dead sleep when my brain heard that burble-burble-burble. Later, I would refer to it as the Pontiac noise.
Having the carbureted version of the 2.8-liter led to an interesting quirk that may have been specific to the 6000 LE, this engine family, or maybe just our car. When it got real, proper cold during the winter months, the choke would get stuck, preventing the engine from starting. My dad would have to open the glove box, grab a giant screwdriver, pop the hood, remove the air filter, and shove the screwdriver into the choke – forcing it open.
The car also featured a display on the dash that was the outline of a car. Various parts of it would light up to inform the driver if one of the doors or rear hatch were open. Our rear hatch sensor was faulty, and we probably spent more time with it illuminated on the dash than with it turned off.
We also mounted a third brake light to the top of the rear hatch glass with two-sided tape. It didn’t take long for the tape to fail and the light spent years swinging freely from its cord in the cargo area.
Epic. Road. Trip.
About a year into ownership, my parents decided to embark on a road trip that redefined the word epic. Both being teachers, they had the summer off, and decided we should attend the world EXPO taking place in Vancouver in 1986. We lived in a suburb just outside of Toronto, and rather than fly, we were going to make the drive.
The four of us packed up the 6000 LE, me at six-years old and my sister all of nine years-old. We would head to Vancouver via Canada, which meant going up, through Ontario the long way. Our return trip would come back through the United States and visit such iconic places as the Bad Lands, Yellowstone National Park and Wall Drug. In all, the trip covered just under 10,000 km and lasted 28 days as we visited family and friends along the way.
This may sound like torture spending that much time in a car with two kids under the age of 10, but my parents were well prepared for this scenario being elementary school teachers. They kept us engaged, had us fill in journals, and rewarded us for good behavior. Everything was smooth – except that time I threw up on myself or that time my sister bolted through the woods after a Moose.
But the car was a real champ on this trip. The soft, maroon seats were comfortable, and it never gave us a single issue. Plus, despite being a smaller wagon, the 6000 LE was still quite roomy – it is longer than a 2020 Subaru Outback for reference.
Beloved to the Day it Left
The Pontiac would stay with us for many more years after this trip. It took me to my first short track oval, my first Mosport experience and countless trips up north to our cottage. When we finally replaced it in 1994, I was sad to see it go. And although she loathed it as a teenager, I‘ll forever be jealous that my sister got to drive it and I never did.